Molecular Microbiology and Microbial Pathogenesis​

​DBBS at Washington University, by virtue of its interdisciplinary graduate program and highly interactive and collaborative environment, is ideally suited for training and research in Molecular Microbiology & Microbial Pathogenesis (MMMP). Our program is tailored to the needs and interests of the individual student and emphasizes laboratory research, supported by course work, journal clubs and seminars. The program teaches comprehensive and modern approaches to understanding microbes and the diseases they cause. Our faculty spans both the Medical and Danforth campuses at WashU. Additional opportunities to study fundamental aspects of non-pathogenic microorganisms are available through the Plant & Microbial Biosciences program.

This program includes two major areas of research:

Molecular Microbiology

Research in molecular microbiology employs genetics, cell biology, biochemistry, and biophysics to investigate fundamental biological problems including environmental sensing and cell-cell signaling, transcriptional and post-transcriptional regulation, secretion, energy generation, and the bacterial cell cycle. State-of-the-art computational and comparative genomic approaches are used to study commensal, pathogenic, and environmental organisms in their natural environment.

Microbial Pathogenesis and Host Defense

Research in the molecular biology and biochemistry of pathogenic bacteria, fungi, protozoa, helminths and viruses, with an emphasis on mechanisms of virulence and host-parasite interactions. Applying a wide range of emerging technologies in molecular genetics and cell biology, this work includes the discovery and analysis of virulence-associated genes, the study of innate and acquired immunity to pathogens, and the identification and exploration of novel targets for chemotherapy.

Program of study

Students in the Molecular Microbiology & Microbial Pathogenesis (MMMP) program will typically take five (5) to six (6) courses during their first year. Students will also participate in three laboratory rotations over the fall and spring semesters of Year 1 prior to selecting a thesis lab.  Students are expected to complete the following coursework during their entire graduate education:

DBBS required courses

Graduate Research Fundamentals
Ethics and Research Science – typically taken in Year 2

Program required courses

Molecular Microbiology and Pathogenesis
Special Topics in Microbial Pathogenesis
Students may select either course below:
Nucleic Acids and Protein Biosynthesis
Fundamentals in Molecular Cell Biology

One (1) advanced elective

Biotech Industry Innovators
Immunobiology I
Immunobiology II
Principles and Applications of Biological Imaging
Molecular, Cell and Organ Systems
Macromolecular Interactions
Molecular Foundations of Medicine
Developmental Biology
Chemistry and Physics of Biological Molecules
Modeling Biomolecular Systems I
Modeling Biomolecular Systems II
Advanced Genetics
Computational Molecular Biology
Fundamentals of Computer Science

Two (2) special topics courses

Cell Biology of the Stress Response
Expanding the Central Dogma: Detours between Genome and Proteome
Cell & Molecular Biology of Bone
Signal Transduction in Human Biology
Pathobiology of Human Disease States – enrollment limited to students in the Markey Human Pathobiology Interdisciplinary Research Pathway
Special Emphasis Pathway in Cancer Biology – enrollment limited to students in the Cancer Biology Pathway
Chromatin Structure and Gene Expression
Special Topics in Molecular Genetics – enrollment limited to students in the Cancer Biology Pathway
DNA Repair 2.0
Mechanisms of Protein Targeting & Intercompartmental Transport
ID Gateway: Translational and Public Health Aspects of Basic Infectious Disease Research
Subversive Genetics

Journal clubs

Students may select one (1) or more based on interest
Experimental Hematopoiesis Journal Club
Cell Biology of Extracellular Matrix Journal Club
Cell Motility and Cytoskeleton Journal Club
Ion Channels Journal Club
Molecular Mechanism of Aging Journal Club
Cancer Biology Journal Club
Genetics Journal Club
Experimental Skeletal Biology Journal Club
Current Research in Chromatin, Epigenetics and Nuclear Organization
Molecular Virology Journal Club
Current Literature in Microbiology
Tropical and Molecular Parasitology
Hematology/Oncology Journal Club
Nucleic Acids & Nucleic Acid Protein Interactions Journal Club
Student Run Molecular Genetics Journal Club
Genetics & Development of C. Elegans Journal Club
Classic Experiments in Molecular Biology
Seminar in Computational Molecular Biology Journal Club

Qualifying exam

In the spring/summer semesters of Year 2, students must pass a Qualifying Exam (QE). Following a successful QE defense, students will identify and finalize their committee and complete their thesis proposal by December 31 of Year 3.

Thesis committee, proposal, and defense

In the summer and/or fall semesters of Year 2 after rotations are completed, students will select a thesis advisor and begin working in their thesis labs. Students will then select a thesis committee and complete their thesis proposal. Students will complete their thesis research, defense, and graduation over the rest of their graduate career. Most students graduate within five (5) to six (6) years of beginning their program.

Alumni outcomes

MMMP graduates pursue a variety of careers. Most program graduates go into academia, but many find paths in industry, government, and other fields, like science communication, law, and business and entrepreneurship.